Following God to the Desert

This is a guest post from Jon Cook, a friend of mine from the St. Louis area who I admire a good deal. Jon’s doing more writing these days, and I appreciate his thoughts that follow. I bet some of you can relate to his story. Check out more of Jon’s stuff at writetojoncook.me. Seriously…go do it. 

What do you think it was like for Abraham to hear God’s voice for the first time?

Maybe we just imagine Abraham standing outside his tent on a quiet night when he’s interrupted by the voice of God, who sounds eerily similar to James Earl Jones. Maybe we hear Sigur Ros or a Coen brothers soundtrack fading in over the wind and voiceover. Maybe we picture this 1080p video montage of waterfalls and lush meadows flashing before Abraham’s eyes as God tells him all about this land of milk and honey.

Probably not.

God didn’t call Abraham to some vacation destination in the land of Israel. I’ve never been to Israel myself, but I have it on good authority (and Google) that most of Israel is rocky and desert and barren. Think more Nevada, less Cancun. It’s not exactly a paradise, much less a promised land.

Do you ever think there was a point where Abraham said, “Really, God? This is Your promised land? Why does it look like a desert?”

Abraham dreamed of a land he’d never seen. A land of goodness and hope. Not a perfect garden like Eden, but a place that demanded his surrender and obedience. If Canaan was a tropical paradise, I don’t think Abraham would have relied on God as much. Life would have been sweet, easy, a luxury.

When God calls you deeper into His story, there’s a good chance He’s calling you to a place away from distractions. Don’t look for waterfalls. Don’t pack for the beach. There’s a good chance God’s calling you into the desert, the wilderness of losing yourself in surrender.

God calls us to places of surrender and trust because it’s where He gets the most access to the off-limits parts of our hearts. We can’t surrender to the depth that God desires if we’re still distracted by the luxuries around us. We need the desert to gain surrender.

Your desert might be a loss unlike anything you’ve experienced before. It might mean God pulls you out of a relationship to remove the idol of another person’s affections. It might mean God gives you the opportunity to put up healthy boundaries because continuing to avoid conflict will forever feed your pain. It might even be a time where it feels like God really isn’t saying much in your life.

The one thing that it does mean is that God isn’t done with you yet. If you weren’t intrinsically valuable to the future of God’s bigger story, then He wouldn’t draw you into the desert.

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Over the past six months, I’ve felt God calling me into the desert. I left a life of familiarity after being a pastor for seven years and now I’m pursuing writing full-time. I get to work with entrepreneurs and business owners to help their dreams find a voice.

It sounds really exciting, and it is, but it’s also terrifying to think I’ve left a steady paycheck to pursue what God’s calling me to do. I couldn’t stay where I was if I was supposed to become what God called me to be. And so I left. And followed God into the desert.

God leads us to moments of surrender as His way of whispering, “I love you too much to leave you where you are, and I’m not through with you yet.”

Let’s be honest, being in the desert is a terrible experience. And yet, some of the richest, most meaningful moments of my life are times where I need to surrender. The promised land is about God still working in your heart for your future for His kingdom for a reason.

May you find surrender and hope in whatever desert you’re facing today. And may you be reminded of this promise: God’s not done with you yet.

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